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Smart City

Is this simply the tech world’s equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes? Are we dressing up old concepts with new terminology? Or can we truly start to understand how our cities  are evolving and support the planners and developers of new cities? The realisation that 75% of people globally will be living in cities by 2050 (IBM) means that smart solutions are important, but the key to this is the data feeding them is accurate and actionable. Our responsibility as geographers, therefore is to take the value of location and involve it as early as possible in this process.

Being smart, from ‘my point of view’, is taking the fantastic geospatial data sources from multiple disparate silos and depositories, plumbing these into one system, then allowing the data to flow and solutions to develop as natural connections are made between datasets. This may simply be dynamically monitoring the growing amounts of satellite imagery data, both Open (Sentinel and Landsat) and commercial. Understanding the view from above is already helping cities consider their past, present and future requirements.

Our recent work supporting the World Bank in Tanzania showed precisely this: taking Landsat and Sentinel data to present not only where urban expansion had occurred, but also which areas are growing fastest; equaling a dynamic insight into an urban environment - in this instance helping to direct surveyors on the ground to generate new and accurate maps of a growing city.

Figure 1: Urban Growth in Dar es Salaam 2014 – 2015

We are able to interpret the geography of change within the municipality. Of key interest is where change occurs, Figure 1 shows the central urban sector is not changing significantly, the rapid growth is the unplanned development to the north and the south, signified by the darker orange sectors.

The value is taking this a stage further, to show the dynamically changing environment as new satellite imagery becomes available. Figure 2 illustrates how the urban landscape continues to rapidly change between 2015 and 2016.

Figure 2: Urban Growth in Dar es Salaam 2015 – 2016

However when looking at the same type of data, in this instance satellite imagery data in the UK, our specific interest in the changing western, urban environment will revolve around the change in green space, this time in Milton Keynes.

Figure 3: Green Space Change in Milton Keynes

Smart suggests intelligence, and in these simple examples it is the intelligence to convert data into analytics and present the results relevant to the questions asked, where is my city growing?”, as opposed to “where are the green spaces being lost in my city?” priority and focus dictates what is of most concern, yet intriguingly the data source is the same, it was said that “The definition of Genius is taking the complex and making it something simple” A .Einstein.

For geographers, cartography is their trusted ally in achieving genius. Its power to combine multiple datasets, extract complex information and bring together in an elegant display makes the map the geographer’s purist visualisation tool. One which we can and must continue to embrace as the world of data grows and is constantly changing it has never been more important to create clear and easily recognisable maps.

Smart M.Apps continues to allow us as a company to take these steps forward, by allowing us to show not just a map but also associated business intelligence data. In the urban environment, we can give context to a city planner and developer so they can view and assess potential macro scale activities which can rapidly inform and engage a wider audience through clear representation of the living, breathing cities of the 21st century.

The faster we turn the complex into the simple, the closer we will get to support the decisions required in planning and development of new or existing smart cities:

Each one an application or service from Sterling Geo which is powered by geospatial data and is now illustrating of how Sterling Geo supports smart city decision makers.

Phil Cooper
Sterling Geo

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